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This Day in History: Russian-Chinese Friendship Treaty

On July 16th, 2001, Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin applied their signatures to the Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship, officially marking the end of the two countries’ rift from the 1960s. Many foreign representatives were skeptical of the PRC’s new ties to Russia, saying that the alliance was based on common enemies (namely, U.S. hegemony), not on mutual interests. Regardless, the United States took a relatively neutral stance on the treaty. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer pointed out that, “Just because Russia and China have entered into an agreement does not necessarily mean it’s something that would be averse to the interests of the United States.” Russia and China’s long border makes it especially important for the two countries to have a working relationship because an alliance can create stability in the surrounding region.

 

Presidents Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin after signing the treaty

As they signed the treaty, Chinese and Russian representatives were quick to critique U.S. attempts to develop missile defense technology, saying it would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Nevertheless, Jiang and Putin both claimed that the Friendship Treaty was meant only to support Asian growth and was by no means a military alliance. The agreement did manage to strengthen their military cooperation though, especially in case of a threat. A closer relationship with Russia helped reinforce and modernize the PLA through arms sales, joint military exercises, and intelligence and technology sharing. Additionally, if either country is threatened, they have agreed to collaborate and assist each other as needed.

Since 2001, the treaty has largely been a path to pursue stronger economic ties between Russia and China. China’s military has grown significantly since 2001, but China and Russia have not been called to fight any threat together.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) economic group meeting in China

Aside from their alliance against U.S. hegemony and in favor of the ABM Treaty, they also both oppose the principle of humanitarian intervention and Russia pledged its support for PRC policy towards Taiwan. The treaty made these common concerns and beliefs official, becoming a basis from which to form a stronger relationship.

The alliance helped the two countries resolve several smaller but critical issues, such as the demarcation of their border and fighting terrorism in Central Asia. Between the instability in Xinjiang and Chechnya, both China and Russia were looking for an alliance to battle terrorism. They have conducted joint military exercises and engage in intelligence sharing about the region, helping the PRC grow its sphere of influence in Central Asia. The biggest gains, however, remain in trade volume between China and Russia, increasing by over US$50 billion since 2001, primarily in the natural resources that have been essential for China’s growth.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin during one of Xi's six visits to Russia

With President Xi calling this “the best time in history” for Sino-Russian relations and just returning from his sixth official visit with President Putin, this 16-year-old friendship treaty will likely prove the basis for even greater changes to come. 

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